Those that have been touched by the opioid crisis in Homer say the community desperately needs more treatment services. That may just become a reality. Homer’s opioid task force has teamed up with a Matanuska-Susitna Valley provider to start a residential treatment facility for men downtown.
Stephanie Stillwell facilitates the group and after its meeting this week, Stillwell explained that members initially wanted to gather data on overdose deaths, hospital visits and the number of community members seeking treatment. The task force wanted to use that data to seek funding for resources.
“It’s just such a complicated, complex issue that it’s really hard to hone in on and who’s collecting what and how we’re getting this information,” Stillwell explained.
Instead, the group began hosting community conversations as a way to collect stories of addiction and recovery in the community.
“So from that, we’ve been able to move forward a lot more effectively with following the energy of what’s going on in our community and where we need to go,” Stillwell added.
Task force members found treatment services were lacking on the southern Kenai Peninsula. Eventually, its work caught the attention of Philip Licht. He’s the executive director of Set Free Alaska, a Christian-based and state accredited treatment program located near Palmer and Wasilla.
Licht began attending task force meetings with the idea of expanding Set Free’s services to Homer.
“Our thinking was sober support and outpatient and then maybe sometime into the future residential,” he said.
Licht said residential treatment appeared to be the largest gap in the road to recovery for Homer-area residents and set Free eventually settled a 16-bed men’s facility.
“About 70 percent of our referrals come from the criminal justice system. Those state agencies, they told us that their caseloads for the community Homer are like 70 percent men, 30 percent women,” Licht explained. “Also, we have a residential program for women already in Mat-Su.”
Like Set Free’s Mat-Su program, the Homer facility could provide out-patient treatment for up to 20 patients, both male and female. The idea is that Mat-Su and Homer residents could utilize residential services at either facility and move to out-patient services in their own community.
Set Free hopes to launch the Homer project with grant funding.
“The state put out a grant for anyone who is willing to expand residential treatment capacity. We have a working relationship with the state and thought we would have a great shot at getting that,” Licht said.
The grant would provide $1.5 million over two and a half years, a big jumpstart for the estimated $3.2 million project.
The city may also pitch in. The Homer City Council is due to introduce an ordinance Monday that would provide a roughly $100,000 match if Set Free is awarded the state grant.
Homer City Council member Heath Smith is cosponsoring that measure.
“I think that the funds that we’re using, which is from the community assistance moneys that are provided by the state, that this is a perfect use for them,” Smith said.
Set Free also plans to put some of its own funding toward the project.
The state will award its grants for residential treatment programs in March. Licht said if Set Free is selected, the Homer facility could open by the end of the summer. If the program is not selected, he said that timeline will be delayed.